A hand gripped his shoulder as though in a vise, and swung him around; the muzzle of an automatic confronted him, and behind it the threatening eyes of Joe glared directly into his own.
“Not a move, you damned spy,” a voice said coldly. “Now, Mark, frisk the cuss, and be lively about it. Had a gun, hey; I thought so. Give it to me. Now get the cord over there and give him a turn or two. A very good job, old boy; the fellow is safe enough, I should say.”
He turned his eyes away, searching the cabin, confident that West was sufficiently secured.
“Come on out, Mary,” he said sharply. “Who is this guy, anyhow?”
A woman came forward through the shadows. West had a glimpse of her face, but the features were unfamiliar. A woman of forty, perhaps, still attractive in appearance, with dark hair and bold black eyes that met his own defiantly. He was puzzled, doubtful as to what it all meant. So this was the woman he had seen on board; not Natalie Coolidge at all. There had been a mistake of some kind; but if so, why had these people given him this sort of reception aboard? These thoughts swept his mind in a flash, as the woman peered forward to see his features more clearly. For a moment she said nothing, and Joe broke out impatiently.
“He’s the lad, ain’t he?” he asked. “We ain’t gone an’ picked up the wrong guy?”
“No; he’s the bird all right. I never lamped him but once before myself. I heard his name then, but forgot it. He’s her friend, there ain’t no doubt o’ that, Joe, and it ain’t likely he’s hanging around here just for fun, is it? My idea was it would be safer to take him in.”
“Sure; what’s yer name, young fellow?”
Concealment was useless; they evidently had him correctly spotted; to lie would do no good.
“That’s the name,” the woman exclaimed eagerly. “He is a soldier—a Captain, or something like that. Jim told me about him; he’s the same fellow who was snooping about Mike’s Place last night, before we pulled out.”
“Is that so? How the hell did you get out of there?”
“We had a little trouble,” West admitted, “but they let me go.”
“Yes, they did! I know better than that; Hobart don’t do business that way. I reckon we’ve played his game all right taking you in. Well, you don’t get out of here so easy, let me tell you. How’d you come to get onto us?”
“That’s my business.”
“Oh, is it? Well, we’ll make it ours from now on. There is one thing pretty sure—you were here playing a lone hand. So it don’t make much difference what yer idea was. We’ll take the bird along with us, Mary; then he’ll be out of temptation.”
The woman nodded.
“Jim will know what to do with him,” she said. “All we got to do is keep him safe.”